Our home is perched overlooking the Dordogne River in the small hamlet of Vitrac Port in Southwest France. Life and conversation are centered around the river and as the seasons change there is much discussion about whether the river has ever been this high or this low or this full of canoeing tourists or swans. We never have to worry about flooding, well… never say never, but the house sits on a rocky cliff endowed with the view of the river and a large island that is the home to hundreds of ducks, herons, geese, and countless other birds with their litany of bird song, peeps, and squawks; a certified bird sanctuary thanks to one of our neighbors.
The lure of fog is hard to resist even if the light peeking through the bedroom curtains makes it seem a lot earlier than seven in the morning. I grab my camera, put on my rubber boots, bundle up, and head down to the river.
The Dordogne River in winter is a monochromatic dream of overhanging dew-laden dark woods surrounded by thick fog which hovers tenderly over the river’s banks. Shooting black and white is clearly the way to go when nature has already dictated the palate. The film gives the pictorial a timeless feeling, capturing one of nature’s glorious gifts which for eternity has taken place on the river’s edge.
You might get lucky enough if the light breaks through just right to get that perfect reflection in the river where a half-submerged boat poses for you.
I was not the only one braving the mist and the chill, a boatman committed to his old river friend is giving him a tune up, stripping off the peeling varnish and wood and bringing the boat back to life, ready for new adventures on the river. I peek around a tree hoping to get a few shots and not disturb his solitude much like one would when photographing a rare bird. And just a few bends in the river away, luck is with me as I spy a boat just barely floating amidst the reflection of wind-swept trees. Click, click, click.
As the sun starts to peak through, I venture further down the road and find an estate with its imposing entrance gates wide open, revealing a tree-lined driveway, offering a glimpse of the wealth and prestige of the mansion inside from a bygone era. I focus on the massive pillars which support the ornate gates and have welcomed visitors for centuries and rise like monuments from the giant front lawn that is several hectares.
The fog filters the sun just enough to make it a large spotlight casting a soft mysterious light over the landscape, giving the driveway, the imposing gates, and columns the timeless feel of another era.
The blue sky starts to dispel the fog and the sun wins to make it another beautiful Dordogne day. The magic time has passed and I am proud of myself for getting out of bed and not putting it off for another day. I hurry back to the house and jump back in bed to get warm and shut my eyes to dream of my memories of mist.
By Cynthia Royce, photographer and co-author of The Road to Villa Page (read our review here) a memoir about buying a dream home in Dordogne and the adventures that follow.